Flooding from Hurricane Tomas Bolsters a Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

A cholera outbreak in the Artibonite province of Haiti has killed over 500 people and infected over 7000 more in the last three weeks. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine transmitted through the ingestion of tainted water or food. The main source of the disease at the moment is the Artibonite River, which generations of rural Haitians have used for almost everything. “Before the cholera we drank from the river and the canals all the time,” said Solomon Pierre, who lives in a farming hamlet near L’Estere. “Now we try not to.”

With a large part of Haiti’s infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake in January, even more of the region’s population are forced to turn to the river and its tributaries as a primary source of drinking and washing water. Nine months after the earthquake, urban centres still look like war zones and almost 1.3 million people are still living in makeshift huts fashioned from plastic tarps. Aid workers wielding megaphones drive around telling people how important it is to use soap.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti: January 13, 2010

Until now, a cholera case hadn’t been seen in Haiti in 50 years. While we may never definitively know the cause of this outbreak, the US Centers for Disease Control have determined that the strain in Haiti is a South Asian one that may have crossed the Pacific with peacekeeping or aid workers

Physicians working in Haiti say it isn’t feasible to expect people to not wash or bathe in the waters because there are no alternatives. “We know there may be cholera in there, but sometimes it is all we have to drink,” said Alienne Cilencrieux, another resident. “If we have Clorox, we pour some in and drink it. It tastes bad. Or we dig in the ground until we find water and drink that.” In some places, people get water from hoses placed on the sidewalk by hotels or aid organizations. They wash themselves in plastic buckets then empty the buckets next to their tents where the water washes down the street or evaporates.

A funeral procession in Port-au-Prince, October 16. The earthquake, disease and flooding combined with the country's poverty have left Haiti a long ways from returning to self-sufficiency. After nine months and the efforts of over 10 000 aid organizations, there is no sign that a better Haiti is being built.

While Hurricane Thomas spared the battered island a full-on landfall, it did bring significant flooding to the area. Several rivers burst their banks leaving many tent cities covered in up to two feet of standing flood waters. Epidemiologists fear the flooding could provide the outbreak with the means to become an epidemic. Spiegel Online

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